In cases where a fine is imposed as part of a misdemeanor sentence, Ohio statutes allow that fine to be imposed in the form of community service. This is particularly helpful where a defendant is unemployed or has limited income.
However, when community service is imposed in lieu of a fine, the community service hours must be “commensurate” with the fine. If the community service hours are not proportional to the fine, they might – as in the case discussed below – be found unreasonable on appeal.
Petty Theft Defendant Ordered to Pay $200 Fine, Asks to Do Community Service in Lieu of Fine
In this case – Cleveland v. Peoples, 2015-Ohio-674 – the compliant alleged that the defendant took about $40 worth of merchandise from Wal-Mart. As a result, he was charged with one count of petty theft, a first degree misdemeanor.
He pleaded no contest to the charge and was ordered to pay a $200 fine, complete an anti-theft class and have no contact with Wal-Mart. Because the defendant was unemployed, his attorney requested community work service in lieu of paying the $200 fine. The defendant was found to be indigent and court costs were suspended.
The trial court granted the request and ordered that he perform 300 hours of community service by within 11 weeks time. In order to fulfill this requirement, he would have had to perform community service every business day, for nearly 6 hours a day, for the entire 11 week period.
Court Ordering 300 Hours of Community Service in Lieu of $200 Fine is Unreasonable
On appeal, the defendant challenged the sentencing order.
R.C. 2929.28(B) allows courts to impose community work service for the collection of fines. Specifically, R.C. 2929.27(A)(3) states that community work service may be imposed up to 500 hours for a first degree misdemeanor or 200 hours or a second, third or fourth degree misdemeanor.
Here, in lieu of the $200 fine, the court ordered the defendant to perform 300 hours of community service.
Although within the statutory range, the community service order was nonetheless unreasonable. The court ordered that the 300 hours be performed in 11 weeks.
When community work service is ordered in lieu of the fine imposed, as opposed to a separate sanction or condition, “the hours ordered should be commensurate with the fine.” Here, the amount of hours the trial court ordered is “arbitrary and unreasonable considering the fine imposed.”